I was diagnosed with Stage 1, invasive triple negative breast cancer on 3/22/2018 after finding a lump during a breast self-exam in February. Like about 40 – 50% of women, I have dense breast tissue, which means a mammogram is more likely to miss a cancerous mass, so a monthly breast self-exam is a Big, Necessary Thing.
Gotta say, I wasn’t the most religious about doing them. My rationale was that a lump couldn’t change so fast that I would be able to notice it from month-to-month, so I did my exams about every 3 months. And, let me tell you, when I found the lump, it was already big enough (roughly the size of a small marble) that I was pretty darn sure I was in Big Trouble.
Sure enough, the mammogram that came next could barely detect the mass so they immediately did an ultrasound of the area I could feel. When the friendly, chatty ultrasound tech stops talking, gets very serious and quiet, and then dismisses herself only to come back with the radiologist, you know it isn’t good.
Nope, it wasn’t.
I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer after a biopsy of the lump the following week. About 10-20% of breast cancers are triple negative, which means that they don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors or those for HER2 receptors. Not having these receptors also means that they don’t respond to the conventional treatments that work with other types of breast cancer. It further means that this little bugger is more aggressive and more likely to come back or spread to other parts of the body.
Triple negative breast cancer does, however, respond to chemotherapy (yay!).
Right now, I’m working through 20 weeks of neoadjuvant (pre-surgery) chemotherapy before having my first surgery in Autumn, 2018. Can I just say that chemo kicks your butt? That’s okay, it’s saving my life. The tumor has responded better than I could have hoped and has already shrunk to a nearly undetectable, teensy, rice-sized lump (woot!). My oncologist is super-encouraging and I’m grateful beyond words that the chemo is working so well.
We’ll get the first look at the tumor (hopefully, at its dead, lifeless carcass) during surgery. At that point, pathology will tell me my chances of recurrence and give me a survival prognosis. The whole experience has been surreal.
Bottom line – get your annual mammograms and please add a monthly breast self-exam to your phone calendar so you get a reminder! It’s so important – you might just save your life!